Social Security Disability Requirements: What You Need To Know

Social Security Disability Requirements: What You Need To KnowAlthough nobody can predict when an accident or illness might leave you unable to work, there are ways to protect yourself should the unexpected occur.

Social Security disability benefits is one way to secure yourself financially if you’re unable to work as a result of injury or illness.

Millions of people rely on Social Security benefits, with the vast majority being retirees and their families. 

Statistics show 60 million people, or more than one in every six American residents, collected Social Security benefits in June 2015.  While 75 percent of them received benefits as retirees or elderly widow(er)s, 18 percent (11 million) received disability insurance benefits, and three percent (two million) received benefits as young survivors of deceased workers.

It’s important to know the basics of Social Security disability requirements should you come to need them. Today, we explain these requirements but let’s begin by looking at Social Security’s definition of disability.

Social Security’s  Definition of Disability

Social Security uses a strict definition of disability that excludes both short-term disabilities and partial disabilities.

Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or for short-term disability.

“Disability” under Social Security is based on your inability to work.

You are considered disabled under Social Security disability requirements if:

  • You cannot do work that you did before.
  • You cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s).
  • Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

The program rules assume that working families have access to other resources to provide support during periods of short-term disabilities including:

  • Workers’ compensation
  • Insurance
  • Savings
  • Investments

It’s primarily because of this strict definition of disability that the Social Security Administration initially denies two-thirds of all disability claims.

Social Security Disability Requirements Around Length of Work

Social Security requires you to work a minimum length of time to qualify for disability benefits.

Social Security work credits are based on your total annual wages or self-employment income. You can earn up to four credits each year.

The amount needed for a credit changes from year to year. In 2015, for example, you earn one credit for each $1,220 of wages or self-employment income. When you’ve earned $4,880, you’ve earned your four credits for the year.

The number of work credits you need to qualify for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled. Generally, if you’re 62 years of age or older, you need to have 40 credits, and you must earn at least 20 of those credits within the 10-year period prior to becoming disabled.

However, the total number of credits decreases by two for every two years that you’re younger than 62, reaching 20 credits for those between the ages 31 and 42. Younger workers need to have credits for half the time between their 21st birthday and the year they become disabled, with a minimum of six credits for those 24 or younger.

No matter what your age,  you must earn the required number of work credits within a certain period ending with the time you become disabled. If you qualify now but stop working under Social Security, you may not continue to meet the disability work requirement in the future.

Social Security Disability Eligibility Requirements

Social Security disability requirements are fairly straightforward. To be eligible for either SSDI or SSI disability benefits, claimants must be financially eligible and medically eligible.

Medical Requirements: You need to have a medical condition that is severe and either:

  • Meets the requirements of a Social Security impairment listing.
  • Prevents you from working at any of their past jobs.
  • Prevents you from doing any other job, given your education, age, and skills.

In addition, your medical disability must have lasted, or be expected to last, for at least one year for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or SSI (Supplemental Security Income) benefits to be awarded.

Financial/Legal Requirements: If you earn a certain amount of money per month, you’re considered to be gainfully employed, and therefore not eligible for benefits. 

For SSDI, you have to be insured under the Social Security Disability Insurance program, which means you’ve paid taxes into the system for the required number of years and your insurance hasn’t expired because you stopped working too long ago.

The Amount of Disability Benefits You And Your Family Receive

When you start receiving disability benefits, your family might also  qualify for benefits. Benefits may be paid to your:

Each family member may be eligible for a monthly benefit of up to 50 percent of your disability rate. However, there is a limit to the amount Social Security can pay your family.

The total depends on your benefit amount and the number of family members who also qualify on your record. Generally the total amount you and your family can receive is about 150 to 180 percent of your disability benefit.

If the sum of the benefits payable on your account is greater than the family limit, your benefit will not be affected but the benefits to the family members will be reduced proportionately.

Social Security Disability vs. Group or Individual Disability

If the amount of disability benefits you and your family are eligible to receive through Social Security Disability is not enough to cover your essential living expenses it is time to consider group (offered through your employer) or individual disability benefits.

A group or individual disability benefit plan will protect your income and financial security by helping you pay  bills like your mortgage, car payments, and utilities.